In case you’ve not noticed, I carry and test a lot of bags for TNW. I’ve been a long-time fan of Tom Bihn‘s products, but I had not yet had the chance to give one a thorough run-through. So when the company offered me the opportunity to live and work with its new Synapse 25 backpack, I jumped. What I’ve found is that, even though Tom Bihn bags carry a hefty price tag, they’re worth every penny. Read on.
The first thing that you need to know about the Synapse 25 is that it’s a larger version of the company’s already-popular Synapse 19. It’s designed to give 30 percent more volume than the 19, and Tom Bihn’s design brilliance is in the forefront at every turn.
My review bag came loaded out. Tom Bihn included a key strap, a Guardian light, a Cache with Rails system for both my iPad Mini and MacBook Air (more on these in a minute), as well as a couple Stuff Sacks. All said, that would bring the total price to $284, from the standalone price of $170 for the Synapse 25.
The 25 is absolutely cavernous on the inside, but you’d never know it when it’s completely zipped. Tom Bihn’s design team has done a tremendous job of keeping the bag sleek, belying the amount of gear that you’ve managed to load inside of it. On one trip, I took only the 25, leaving my suitcase at home. My packing list looked like this:
- 3 pairs of shorts
- 4 t-shirts
- 3 pairs of boxers
- 3 pairs of socks
- 1 pair of shoes
- Hygiene/shower kit
- 11-inch MacBook Air + charger
- iPad mini + charger
- iPhone + charger
- Point-and-shoot camera
- Blue Tiki microphone, with case
- Monoprice ANC headphones
- Backup battery pack
- Travel mouse
- Various USB cables and flash drives
- 1-liter steel water bottle
Suffice it to say, I travel with a lot of stuff, even for short trips. But the Synapse 25 accepted everythingng that I had and still had plenty of space left for more. Heavy? Sure. But Tom Bihn’s more vertical design of the 25 does an amazing job of stabilizing the weight of the bag, instead of having it feel like you’re going to tip backwards at any given point.
Now a bit about the Cache with Rails system that I mentioned earlier. The Cache is a 6mm-thick foam sleeve that is the perfect size for your laptop, and you can get them for tablets too. It offers generous protection of your devices, but the clips on the Rails system allow you to have a checkpoint-friendly bag where you can lay out your laptop for security screenings. If you’re going to buy the bag, pony up to get the Cache with Rails system. Not only does it make things easier to deal with, the added protection is a welcome bonus.
The other thing that you’ll want to invest in is a couple of Stuff Sacks. In the past, I’ve always had a mesh pocket inside of my backpacks that I would use to store the various cables, batteries, USB drives and what-not. The Stuff Sacks are drawstring bags that do what they say – they let you stuff your stuff inside of a sack, keeping everything in one place and organized. I used one of them for the computer and USB stuff, and then another to carry my e-cigarette batteries and accessories. Even if you don’t buy a Tom Bihn bag, get a couple of Stuff Sacks. They’re truly the best thing I’ve ever used for travel.
The Synapse 25 comes standard in a 1000d Cordura nylon, but you can order it in a 400d Dyneema ripstop material if you so choose. Tom Bihn recommends the Dyneema material for better resistance against scratches and things like pets, but I found the Cordura nylon to be highly resistant to pet hair and the usual scuffs and scratches as well. It’s a very thick, heavy-duty material and should last for longer than you’ll ever need to use it.
Of course the company also spares no details when it comes to the zippers. The rubberized outer cover protects your contents from dust and light rain, though I did not stand outside in any sort of strong storm to test it further than that.
If you’re a frequent traveler, you probably have a small collection of backpacks and such that you’ve spent a couple hundred dollars to gather. Chances are that none of them work quite as well as you want them to, because they’re often too bulky or just too small. WIth its svelte exterior, massive storage space and war-ready construction, the Synapse 25 will likely be the last backpack that you’ll ever buy. At the very least, it will out-serve and out-live anything that you’ve bought thus far.
The verdict? The Tom Bihn Synapse 25 just took my top spot as my go-to bag for just about everything.
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